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Up to date as of January 14, 2010

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A church is an association of people who share a particular belief system, particularly used in Christianity. The Christian concept "Church" (Greek εκκλησία — ekklesia, ref. Strong's Concordance — 1577) is mentioned in the New Testament, of the 114 occurrences. The Greek term εκκλησία — ekklesia, which literally means a "convocation", was a governmental and political term, used to denote a national assembly.



  • And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
    • Mt 16:18, Revised Standard Version, English translation from Greek.
    • Recorded as words of Jesus Christ(-33?) in Koine Greek. Original saying however may have been in the Aramaic language which was spoken widely in Palestine at that time.
    • The analysis of this passage has been disputed between Rome Catholic and other denominations.
  • Είς μίαν, αγίαν, καθολικήν καί αποστολικήν Έκκλησίαν. (Original: Greek)
  • Wir haben also als Missverständnis: […] eine kirchliche Ordnung, mit Priesterschaft, Theologie, Cultus, Sakramenten; kurz, alles das, was Jesus von Nazareth bekämpft hatte. (Original: German)
    • Translation: We therefore have a misunderstanding: [...] a church order with priesthood, theology, cult and sacraments; shortly, everything Jesus of Nazareth fought against.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, Nachlass, KSA 13: 11[295]
  • It is important to know that the word “church” literally means the assembled ones or the ones gathered together. It does not refer to a building, but to people. In other words, the church is not a building, it’s a community. It’s a community brought together by the one thing we all hold in common, a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This is the very foundation of the church. That is what unites us and absolutely nothing can divide us from gathering in His kingdom. So, no matter who you are or where you are from; no matter what language you speak or what clothes you wear; you are welcomed in the community of The First Cathedral – the church for all people.
  • There is no family in America without a clock, and consequently there is no fair pretext for the usual Sunday medley of dreadful sounds that issues from our steeples. ~ Mark Twain


  • My heart is my church.
  • The church is always trying to get other people to reform; it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CHURCH (according to most authorities derived from the Gr. KcvpLaKOv [bWµa], " the Lord's [house]," and common to many Teutonic, Slavonic and other languages under various forms - Scottish kirk, Ger. Kirche, Swed. kirka, Dan. kirke, Russ. tserkov, Bulg. cerkova, Czech cirkev, Finn. kirkko, &c.), a word originally applied to the building used for Christian worship, and subsequently extended to the Christian community (ecclesia) itself. Similarly the Greek word ecclesia (Ekkx'7aia), " assembly," was very early transferred from the community to the building, and is used in both senses, especially in the modern Romance and Celtic languages (e.g. Fr. dglise, Welsh eglwys, &c.). (1) Church Architecture. - From the strictly architectural point of view the subject of church building, including the development of the various styles and the essential features of the construction and arrangement of churches, is dealt with elsewhere (see Architecture; Abbey; Basilica). It is, however, impossible to understand the development of church architecture without realizing its intimate connexion with that of the doctrine, organization and ritual of the Christian Church as a religious community, and a brief sketch of this connexion may be given here by way of introduction to the more technical treatment of the subject. In general it may be said of church architecture, more truly than of any other, that artistically it is " frozen music." It is true that at all times churches have been put to secular uses; in periods of unrest, as among the Nestorian Christians now, they were sometimes built to serve at need as fortresses; their towers were used for beacons, their naves for meetings on secular affairs. But as a rule, and especially in the great periods of church architecture, their builders were untrammelled by any utilitarian considerations; they built for the glory of God, for their own glory perhaps, in honour of the saints; and their work, where it survives, is (as it were) a petrification of their beliefs and ideals. This is, of course, more true of the middle ages than of the times that preceded and followed them; the Church under the Roman empire hardly as yet realized the possibilities of " sermons in stones," and took over, with little change, the model of the secular and religious buildings of pagan Rome; the Renaissance, essentially a neo-pagan movement, introduced disturbing factors from outside, and, though developing a style very characteristic of the age that produced it, started that archaeological movement which has tended in modern times to substitute mere imitations of old models for any attempt to express in church architecture the religious spirit of the age.

The earliest type of Christian Church, out of which the others developed, was the basilica. The Church, emerging in the 4th century into imperial favour, and established as part of the organization of the Roman empire, simply adopted that type of secular official building which she found convenient for her purposes. The clergy, now Roman officials, vested in the robes of the civil dignitaries (see Vestments), took their seats in the apse of the basilica where the magistrates were wont to sit, in front of them the holy table, facing the congregation. The cancelli, the lattice or bar, which in the civil tribunal had divided the court from the litigants and the public, now served to separate clergy and laity. This arrangement still survives in some of the ancient churches of Rome; it has been revived in many Protestant places of worship. It symbolized principally an official distinction; but with the theocratizing of the empire in the East and its decay in the West the accentuation of the mystic powers of the clergy led to a more complete separation from the laity, a tendency which left its mark on the arrangements of the churches. In the East the cancelli, under the influence possibly of the ritual of the Jewish temple, developed into the iconostasis, the screen of holy pictures, behind the closed doors of which the supreme act of the eucharistic mystery is hidden from the lay people. In the West the high altar was moved to the east end (the presbyterium) with a space before it for the assisting deacons and subdeacons (the chancel proper) railed off as a spot peculiarly holy (now usually called the sanctuary); between this and the nave, where the laity were, was the choir, with seats for the clergy on either side. The whole of this space (sanctuary and choir) came to be known as the " chancel." This was divided from the nave, sometimes by an arch forming part of the structure of the building, sometimes by a screen, or by steps, sometimes by all three (see Chancel). The division of churches into chancel and nave, the outcome of the sacramental and sacerdotal spirit of the Catholic Church,' may be taken as generally typical of church construction in the medieval West, though there were exceptions, e.g. the round churches of the Templars. There were, however, further changes, the result partly of doctrinal developments, partly of that passion for symbolism which by the 13th century had completed the evolution of the Catholic ritual. Transepts were added, to give to the ground-plan of the building the figure of the cross. The insistence on the unique efficacy of the sacrifice of the altar led to the multiplication of masses, and so of altars, which were placed in the transepts or aisles or in chapels, dedicated to the saints whose relics they enshrined. The chief of these subsidiary chapels, that of the Blessed Virgin (or Lady chapel), behind the high altar, was often of large size. Finally, for the convenience of processions, the nave and chancel aisles were carried round behind the high altar as ambulatories.

The Romanesque churches, still reminiscent of antique models, had preserved all the simplicity of the ancient basilicas with much more than their grandeur; but the taste for religious symbolism which culminated in the 13th century, and the imaginative genius of the northern peoples, transformed them into the marvellous dreams in stone of the " Gothic " period. Churches now became, in form and decoration, epitomes of the Christian scheme of salvation as the middle ages understood it.

In the plan of the buildings and their decoration everything still remained subordinate to the high altar; but though on this and its surroundings ornament was most lavishly expended, the churches - wherever wealth permitted - were covered within and without with sculpture or painting: scenes from the Old and New Testaments, from the lives of saints, even from every-day life; figures of the Almighty, of Christ, of the Virgin Mother, of apostles, saints, confessors; pictures of the joys of heaven and the torments of hell; and outside, grimacing from every angle, demons and goblins, amusing enough to us but terrible to the age that set them there, visible embodiments of the evil spirits driven from within the sacred building by the efficacy of the holy rites.

In considering the origins of medieval churches, moreover, it must be borne in mind that as a general rule their builders were not actuated by the motives usual in modern times, at least among Protestants. The size of churches was not determined by the needs of population but by the piety and wealth of the founders; and the same applies to their number. Often they were founded as acts of propitiation of the Almighty or of the saints, and the greater their size and splendour the more effective they were held to be for their purpose. Local rivalry, too, played a large part, one wealthy abbey building " against " another, much in the same way as modern business houses endeavour to outshine each other in the magnificence of their buildings. Of all the mixed motives that went to the evolution of church architecture in the middle ages, this rivalry in ostentation was probably the most fertile in the creation of new forms. A volume might be written on the economic effects of this locking up of vast capital in unproductive buildings. In Catholic countries (notably in Ireland) great churches are still built out of the savings of a poverty-stricken peasantry; and from this point of view the destruction of churches in the 26th century was probably a benefit to the world. This, however, is a consideration altogether alien to the Christian spirit, the aspiration of which is to lay up treasures not on earth but in heaven.

The Reformation was a fateful epoch in the history of church architecture. The substitution of the Bible for the Mass destroyed the raison d'être of churches as the middle ages had made them. Pictures and stories, carved or painted, seemed no longer necessary now that the open Bible was in the hands of the common people; they had been too often prostituted, moreover, to idolatrous uses, - and " idolatry " was the worst of blasphemies to the re-discoverers of the Old Testament. Save in some parts of Germany, where the influence of Luther saved the churches from wreck, an iconoclastic wave spread over the greater part of Western Europe, wherever the " new religion " prevailed; everywhere churches were cleared of images and reduced to the state of those described by William Harrison in his Description of England (1570), only the " pictures in glass " being suffered in some cases to survive for a while " by reason of the extreme cost of replacing them." The structures of the churches, however, remained; and these, even in countries which departed furthest from the Catholic system, served in some measure to keep its tradition alive. Protestantism has, indeed, produced a distinctive church architecture, i.e. the conventicle type, favoured more especially by the so-called " Free Churches." Its distinctive features are pulpit and auditorium, and it is symbolical of the complete equality of ministers and congregation. In general, however, Protestant builders have been content to preserve or to adapt the traditional models. It would be interesting in this connexion to trace the reverse effect of church architecture upon church doctrine. In England, for instance, the chancels were for the most part disused after the Reformation (see Harrison, op. cit.), but presently they came into use again, and on the Catholic revival in the Church of England in the 19th century it is certain that the medieval churches exercised an influence by giving a sense of fitness, which might otherwise have been lacking, to the restoration of medieval ritual. A similar tendency has of late years been displayed in the Established Church of Scotland.

Churches, as the outcome of the organization of the Catholic Church, are divided into classes as " cathedral," " conventual " and " collegiate," " parochial " and " district " churches. It must be noted, however, that the term cathedral (q.v.), ecclesiastically applicable to any church which happens to be a bishop's see, architecturally connotes a certain size and dignity, and is sometimes applied to churches which have never been, or have long ceased to be, bishop's seats. (W. A. P.) (2) The Religious Community. - In the sense of Christian community (ecclesia) the word " Church " is applied in a narrow sense to any one of the numerous separate organizations into which Christendom is divided (e.g. Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Eastern Church, Church. of England, Evangelical [Lutheran] Church) - these are dealt with under their several headings - and in a comprehensive sense (with which we are now concerned) to the general body of all those " who profess and call themselves Christians." Religion, according to the old definition, is the bond which binds the soul of man to God.1 It begins as the relation of a tribe to its God. Personal religious conviction grows out of the tribal (corporate) religious bond. But the social instinct is strong. Men owning the same religious convictions will naturally draw together into some sort of association. Using the word religion to cover all the imperfect ways in which men have felt after God, we note that in every case men have found the need alike of a teacher and of fellowship. Thus the idea of a church as " the pillar and ground of the truth " (i Tim. iii. 15) corresponds to some of the primary needs of man. Even at Stonehenge, the oldest relic of prehistoric religion in England, where we picture in imagination the worship of the rising sun, nature worship degraded to a horrible depth by human sacrifice, we find struggling for expression the idea of a corporate religious life. From all the lower levels where superstition and cruelty reign, from the depths of fear inspired by fetichism, we look on to the higher level of Judaism as the progressive religion of the old world. This does not mean that we shut our eyes to the ideals of Greek philosophers, with whom morality was constantly outgrowing religion. " The vision of an ideal state which the master-mind of Plato contemplated, but thought too good ever to become true in actual realization, is full of aspirations which the Christian Church claims to satisfy. The problems of the relations of the life of the State and the life of the individual, which Aristotle ever suggests and never solves, are problems with which the Christian Church has at least attempted to deal." 2 From the beginning of the history of the Jewish race the idea that the world is a kingdom under the rule of God began to find expression. The conception of Israel as " a kingdom of priests and an holy nation " (Exod. xix. 6) bore witness to it. The idea of kingship from the first was that of a ruler representing God. As time went on and even the dynasty of David failed in the persons of unworthy representatives to maintain this ideal, both psalmists and prophets taught the people to look beyond the earthly kingdom to the spiritual kingdom of which it was a type. But even Isaiah tended to think of the spiritual life and worship of the nation as a department of political organization only, controlled by the king and his princes. It was reserved for Jeremiah, in the darkest days of his life, to build up the ideal of a spiritual society which should weld Israel together, to proclaim a new covenant (xxxi. 31-34) which Jehovah would make with Israel when representatives of the previously exiled ten tribes should return with the exiles of Judah. This prophecy is instinct with the growing sense of the personal responsibility of individual men brought into communion with God. The religion of Israel from this time of the captivity ceased to be a merely national religion connected with particular forms of sacrifice in a particular land. The synagogues which traced their origin to the time of Ezekiel, when the sacrificial cultus was impossible, extended this ideal yet further. During the centuries preceding the birth of Christ there grew up an apocalyptic literature which regarded as a primary truth the conception of a 1 Lactantius, Inst. Div. iv. 28 " Vinculo pietatis obstricti, Deo religati sumus unde ipsa religio nomen accepit." The etymology may be wrong, but this is the popular sense of the word.

a Darwell Stone, The Christian Church, p. 18.

kingdom of righteousness ruled over by a present God. The preaching of John the Baptist was thus in sympathy with the ideals of his generation, though the sternness of the repentance which he set forth as the necessary preparation for entrance into the new kingdom of heaven, which was to be made visible on earth, was not less repugnant to the men of his day than of later times. Christ's own teaching and that of his disciples began with the proclamation of the kingdom of God (or of heaven) (Luke iv. 43, viii. I, ix. 2; Matt. x. 7). That he intended it to find outward expression in a visible society appears from the careful way in which he trained the apostles to become leaders hereafter, crowning that work by the institution of the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. " It was not from accident or for convenience that Christ formed a society." 1 His parables even more than his sermons reveal the principles of his endeavour. But he seldom used the word ecclesia, church, which became the universal designation of his society.

All the more emphatic is Christ's use of the term ecclesia upon the distinct advance in faith made by the apostles when St Peter as their spokesman confessed him to be " the Christ, the Son of the living God " (Matt. xvi. 16). Instantly came the reply, " I say unto thee, that thou art Petros (rockman), and on this Petra (rock) I will build my ecclesia (church); and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." On the rock of a human character, ennobled by faith in his divine Sonship, he could raise the church of the future, which should be at the same time continuous with the old, new in spiritual power, one in worship and in work.

To the Jew the word ecclesia as used in the Septuagint suggested the assembly of the congregation of Israel. To a Greek it suggested the assembly of freeborn citizens in a city state. Without ceasing to be the congregation of Jehovah, it would claim for itself all the hopes of an ideal state over which Greek philosophers had sighed in vain.

Opinions differ upon the question whether the apostles were chosen as representatives of the ecclesia to be founded (Hort) or as men fitted to become its duly authorized teachers and leaders from the beginning (Stone). But as Mr Stone well puts it, " It would not be a necessary inference [from Dr Hort's opinion] that there ought to be no ministry in the Christian Church." At first the church was limited to the Christian believers in the city of Jerusalem, then by persecution their company was broken up, and, since those who were scattered went everywhere preaching theword, the conception was enlarged to include all " of the way " (Acts ix. 2) in the Holy Land. A new epoch began from the return of St Paul and St Barnabas to Antioch after their first missionary journey, when they called together the church and narrated their experiences, and told how " God had opened to the Gentiles the door of faith " (Acts xiv. Hitherto the term Church had been " ideally conterminous " with the Jewish Church. Now it was to contain members who had never in any sense belonged to the Jewish Church. Thus the way was opened for new developments and for illimitable extension. St Paul, in his address to the elders at Ephesus (Acts xx. 28), adapted the works of Ps. lxxiv. Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old," claiming for the Christian ecclesia the title of God's ancient ecclesia. But he never, however fiercely opposed by Judaizers, set a new ecclesia of Christ in opposition to the old. We wait, however, for the Epistles of his captivity at Rome to find the full meaning of the idea of the church dawning u p on his imagination. " Here at least, for the first time in the Acts and Epistles, we have the ecclesia spoken of in the sense of the one universal ecclesia, and it comes more from the theological than from the historical side; i.e. less from the actual circumstances of the actual Christian communities than from a development of thoughts respecting the place and office of the Son of God: his headship was felt to involve the unity of all those who were united to him." a Similar development of the idea of the one ecclesia as including all members of all local 1 Ecce Homo, ed. 5, p. 87. Cf. the interesting comparison between Socrates and Christ.

Op. cit. p. 262.

Hort, The Christian Ecclesia, p. 148.

ecclesiae does not lead St Paul to regard membership of the universal church as invisible.

But the mere history of the word ecclesia does not exhaust the subject. We must take into account not only the idea of the visible actual church, but also the ideal pictured by St Paul in the metaphors of the Body (Rom. xii. 5), the Temple (i Cor. iii. 10-15) and the Bride of Christ (2 Cor. xi. 2). The actual church is always falling short of its profession; but its successive reformations witness to the strength of its longing after the beauty of holiness.

Membership in the actual church is acquired through baptism " in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost " (Matt. xxviii. 19). The references in the New Testament to baptism " in the name of Jesus " (or the Lord Jesus) (Acts ii. 38, viii. 16, x. 48, xix. 5; Rom. vi. 3; Gal. iii. 27), which are by some critics taken to refer to a primitive Christological baptismal formula, seem to refer to the confession made by the baptized, or to the new relationship into which they are brought as " members of Christ." 4 Candidates for baptism were exhorted to prepare for it by repentance and faith (Acts ii. 38). The laying on of hands (Heb. vi. 2), in the rite called in later times confirmation, followed baptism (Acts viii. 17). In the modern Greek Church it is administered by priests with oil which has been consecrated by the bishop, in the Roman Church by the bishop himself. Such use of the chrism can be traced from the 2nd century. The Anglican Church retains only the Biblical symbolism of " the blessing of the hand." Presbyterians and other Protestant churches have abandoned the use, except the Lutherans. We need not here trace the history of Christian worship, in daily services (Acts ii. 46), or on the Lord's Day (Acts xx. 7), meeting for the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. xi. 17-34), or for mutual edification in prayer, praise and prophecy (1 Cor. xiv.). These things represent the ideal of Christendom. In the words of an eminent Roman Catholic scholar, Monsignor Duchesne, " Faith unites, theology often"separates." It must be our task to summarize the leading ideas of the church in which all Christians are agreed.

(a) The first is certainly fellowship with Christ and with the brethren. The early Christians earnestly believed that their life was " hidden with Christ in God " (Col. iii. 3), and found in their union with Christ the lasting and strongest motive of love to the brethren. Such fellowship is attributed by St Paul pre-eminently to the work of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. xiii. 14). Its strength is shown in England in the growing readiness of the different religious bodies to co-operate in movements for the purifying of public morality and for the better observance - of Sunday.

(b) The second is unity. We have seen how St. Paul was led on to grasp the conception of one church universal manifested in all the local churches. Its unity is not purely accidental in that individuals have been forced to act together under pressure of chance circumstances. Nor is the ideal of unity adopted simply because experience teaches that " union is strength." Nor is it even based on the philosophical conception of the incompleteness of the individual life. As Dr Sanday finely says, " If the church is in something more than mere metaphor the Body of Christ, if there is circulating through it a continual flow and return of spiritual forces, derived directly from him, if the Spirit which animates the Body is one, then the Body itself also must be in essence one. It has its centre not on earth but in heavenly places, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God."5 (c) Thirdly, there is no question that the Lord intended the one fellowship of his saints to be a visible fellowship. The idea of an invisible church has only commended itself in dark hours when men despaired of unity even as an ideal. The view of Zwingli and Calvin in the 16th century was not by any means acceptable to other reformers. Luther distinguished between the Spiritual Church, which he identified with the Communion of Saints, and the Corporeal Church, the outward marks of which are Baptism, Sacrament and Gospel. But he regarded them 4 For a full defence of the authenticity of Matt. xxviii. 19, see Riggenbach, Der trinitarische Taufbefehl (Giitersloh, 1903).

5 The Conception of Priesthood, p. 13.

as different aspects of the same church, and Melanchthon was even more explicit.' As the saint purified in heaven is he who struggled with his sins on earth, so is the church triumphant one with the church militant. In Dr Lindsay's words, " it is one of the privileges of faith, when strengthened by hope and by love, to see the glorious ideal in the somewhat poor material reality. It was thus that St Paul saw the universal Church of Christ made visible in the Christian community of Corinth." 2 But it is at this point that we come to the dividing line which has been drawn by different conceptions of catholicity. Dr Lindsay goes on to argue that all insistence on the principle of historical continuity, whether urged by members of the An,glican or the Roman Catholic Church, as upholders of episcopacy, is a deliberate return to the principle of Judaism, which declared that no one who was outside the circle of the " circumcised," no matter how strong his faith nor how the fruits of the Spirit were manifest in his life and deeds, could plead " the security of the Divine Covenant." Without entering into controversy it must suffice to point out that, from the point of view of all episcopal churches, the ministry of the bishops succeeding the ministry of the apostles, however it came to pass, was for fif teen centuries accepted as the pledge of unity. This principle, however, of continuity in ministry, belongs to a different department of Christian thought from the sacrament of baptism, which really corresponds to the Jewish rites of admission to the covenant. And it has been an established principle of the undivided church since the 3rd century, the bishop of Rome in this case upholding against St Cyprian the view which subsequent generations have ratified as Catholic truth, that baptism by whomsoever administered is valid if water is used with the right words. From this point, alas, divergence begins.

(d) The fourth element is authority. Probably all Christians can agree in the statement that the Christian democracy is also a theocracy, that Christ is the source of all authority. There are three passages in the Gospel which claim notice: (i.) the promise to St Peter (Matt. xvi. 18 f), as spokesman for the apostles, of the key of the household of God, of power to admit and exclude; (ii.) the promise (Matt. xviii. 15-20) probably given to the Twelve, regarding offences against the peace of the society, advocating exclusion only when brotherly appeals had failed; (iii.) the commission of the whole ecclesia or of the Christian ministry (John xx. 22, 23). Again the root difference between the Presbyterian and Episcopalian conceptions of the church comes to light. Is the authority of the church manifested in the decisions which a local church arrives at by a majority of votes, or in the decisions of apostles and prophets after taking counsel, of the episcopate in later times, ratified by common consent of Christendom? As has been well said, " the church is primarily a witness - the strength of its authority lies in the many sides from which the witness comes." It witnesses to the Divine Life of Christ as a power of the present and of the future as of the past, ministered in the Word and sacraments.

(e) The church is a sacerdotal society. St Paul delighted to represent it as the " ideal Israel," and St John echoes the thought in the words of praise (Rev. i. 5, 6), " Unto him that hath loved us ... and made us to be a kingdom, and priests unto his God and Father." This idea of the priesthood of the whole church has three elements - the divine element, the human element and self-sacrifice. The promise that Christians should be temples of the living God has been fulfilled. As Dr Milligan has said very well, " It is not only in things to which we commonly confine the word miracle that the Divine appears. It may appear not less in the whole tone and spirit of the Church's life, in the varied Christian virtues of her members, in the general character of their Christian work, and in the grace received by them in the Christian sacraments. When that life is exhibited, as it ought to be, in its distinctively heavenly character, it bears witness to the presence of a power in Christian men which no mere recollection of a past example, however heroic or beautiful, The Conception of Priesthood, p. 29.

2 Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries, p. 17.

can supply. The difficulties of exhibiting and maintaining it are probably far greater now than they were in the apostolic age; and as nothing but a present divine support can enable us to overcome these, so, when they are overcome, a testimony is given to the fact that God is with us." 3 But this life is to be a human life still, to be in touch with all that is noble and of good report in art and literature, keenly interested in all the discoveries of science, active in all movements of social progress. It cannot, however, be denied that to live such a life, divine in its powers and human in its sympathies, demands daily and hourly self-sacrifice. As the author of the Imitation of Christ put it long ago, " There is no living in love without pain." The thought of self-sacrifice has been emphasized from the earliest times in the liturgies. By a true instinct the early Christian writers called widows and orphans the altar of God on which the sacrifices of almsgiving are offered up. 4 Such works of charity, however, represent only one of the channels by which self-sacrifice is ministered, to which all prayers and thanksgiving and instruction of psalms, prophecy and preaching contribute. Thus in the Eucharist the offering of the church is made one with the offering of the Great High Priest.5 All this represents an ideal. It suggests in a modern form the perpetual paradox of the Christian life: we are what we are to be. The church is the divine society in which all other religious associations are eventually to find their home. The prayer, " Thy kingdom come," embraces all spiritual forces which make for righteousness. They were acknowledged in Christ's words, " He that is not against you is for you " (Luke ix. so). But the divisions of Christendom testify to the harm done by undue insistence on the claims of the individual to gain scope to extend the kingdom in his own way. As in a choir all the resources of an individual voice are used to strengthen the general effect, so must the individual lose his life that he may find it, witnessing by his share in the common service of the church to the ultimate unity of knowledge and harmony of truth.

For the various conceptions of the church as an organized body see CHURCH HISTORY, sec. 3, and the articles on the various churches. (A. E. B.)

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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Proper noun




  1. Among Mormons, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: used with proceeding the.
    • 2008, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Lift Where You Stand”, Liahona, November, page 53–56: 
      John was a convert to the Church who left his home in England and traveled to the Salt Lake Valley as part of a handcart company.

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From BibleWiki

Derived probably from the Greek kuriakon (i.e., "the Lord's house"), which was used by ancient authors for the place of worship.

In the New Testament it is the translation of the Greek word ecclesia, which is synonymous with the Hebrew kahal of the Old Testament, both words meaning simply an assembly, the character of which can only be known from the connection in which the word is found. There is no clear instance of its being used for a place of meeting or of worship, although in post-apostolic times it early received this meaning. Nor is this word ever used to denote the inhabitants of a country united in the same profession, as when we say the "Church of England," the "Church of Scotland," etc.

We find the word ecclesia used in the following senses in the New Testament: (1.) It is translated "assembly" in the ordinary classical sense (Acts 19:32, 39, 41).

  1. It denotes the whole body of the redeemed, all those whom the Father has given to Christ, the invisible catholic church (Eph 5:23, 25, 27, 29; Heb 12:23).
  2. A few Christians associated together in observing the ordinances of the gospel are an ecclesia (Rom 16:5; Col 4:15).
  3. All the Christians in a particular city, whether they assembled together in one place or in several places for religious worship, were an ecclesia. Thus all the disciples in Antioch, forming several congregations, were one church (Acts 13:1); so also we read of the "church of God at Corinth" (1Cor 1:2), "the church at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1), "the church of Ephesus" (Rev 2:1), etc.
  4. The whole body of professing Christians throughout the world (1Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13; Mt 16:18) are the church of Christ.

The church visible "consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children." It is called "visible" because its members are known and its assemblies are public. Here there is a mixture of "wheat and chaff," of saints and sinners. "God has commanded his people to organize themselves into distinct visible ecclesiastical communities, with constitutions, laws, and officers, badges, ordinances, and discipline, for the great purpose of giving visibility to his kingdom, of making known the gospel of that kingdom, and of gathering in all its elect subjects. Each one of these distinct organized communities which is faithful to the great King is an integral part of the visible church, and all together constitute the catholic or universal visible church." A credible profession of the true religion constitutes a person a member of this church. This is "the kingdom of heaven," whose character and progress are set forth in the parables recorded in Matt. 13.

The children of all who thus profess the true religion are members of the visible church along with their parents. Children are included in every covenant God ever made with man. They go along with their parents (Gen 9:9-17; 12:1-3; 17:7; Ex 20:5; Deut 29:10-13). Peter, on the day of Pentecost, at the beginning of the New Testament dispensation, announces the same great principle. "The promise [just as to Abraham and his seed the promises were made] is unto you, and to your children" (Acts 2:38, 39). The children of believing parents are "holy", i.e., are "saints", a title which designates the members of the Christian church (1Cor 7:14). (See BAPTISM.)

The church invisible "consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ, the head thereof." This is a pure society, the church in which Christ dwells. It is the body of Christ. it is called "invisible" because the greater part of those who constitute it are already in heaven or are yet unborn, and also because its members still on earth cannot certainly be distinguished. The qualifications of membership in it are internal and are hidden. It is unseen except by Him who "searches the heart." "The Lord knoweth them that are his" (2 Tim 2:19).

The church to which the attributes, prerogatives, and promises appertaining to Christ's kingdom belong, is a spiritual body consisting of all true believers, i.e., the church invisible.

  1. Its unity. God has ever had only one church on earth. We sometimes speak of the Old Testament Church and of the New Testament church, but they are one and the same. The Old Testament church was not to be changed but enlarged (Isa 49:13-23; 60:1-14). When the Jews are at length restored, they will not enter a new church, but will be grafted again into "their own olive tree" (Rom 11:18-24; comp. Eph 2:11-22). The apostles did not set up a new organization. Under their ministry disciples were "added" to the "church" already existing (Acts 2:47).
  2. Its universality. It is the "catholic" church; not confined to any particular country or outward organization, but comprehending all believers throughout the whole world.
  3. Its perpetuity. It will continue through all ages to the end of the world. It can never be destroyed. It is an "everlasting kindgdom."
This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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Facts about ChurchRDF feed

Simple English

This article is about the church as a building.
For the Church as a Christian organization, see One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church
For other uses of the word Church see Church (disambiguation)

A church is a building that was constructed to allow people to meet to worship together. These people are usually Christians, or influenced by Christianity. Other religious groups also have such buildings, but they have different names. Jews pray in synagogues, Muslims pray in mosques, Hindus and Buddhism pray in temples.

Depending on the number of people that are in a community, the churches come in different sizes. Small churches are called chapels. The churches in a particular geographical area form a group called the diocese. Each diocese has a cathedral. In most cases, the cathedral is a very big church. Cathedrals are the seat of bishops.


History of church buildings

An old English church showing Saxon architecture (rounded end)
Aberlady Church near Edinburgh, Scotland

[[File:|thumb|right|Bezvodnoe Trinity Church, Russia, is a Russian Orthodox church.]]

Lindenberg Church, near Berlin, Germany is a 13th century church.
File:Oscarskyrkan Stockholm södervy
Typical church in Stockholm, Sweden

In the early days of Christianity people had to worship in secret. Christian worship was not allowed in the Roman empire, so Christians had to meet in a secret place. Sometimes they met in people’s houses or barns, sometimes they met underground. The first places that were built for Christian worship were small chapels that were cut into a rock where people could worship without being discovered.

After the death of the Roman emperor Constantine in 337 A.D. Christians were allowed to have buildings to worship in. These first churches were built on a similar plan to Roman basilicas. This plan was later used for the fine Gothic cathedrals and churches that were built at the end of the Middle Ages.

The parts of a church

There are several parts in the architecture of a church. Not all churches will have all these parts:

  • The nave is the main part of the church where the congregation (the people who come to worship) sit. The word “nave” comes from a Latin word “navis” meaning “ship”, because the ceiling very often looked like an upside-down hull (bottom of a ship).
  • The aisles (rhymes with “piles”) are the sides of the church which may run along the side of the nave.
  • The transept, if there is one, is an area which crosses the nave near the top of the church. This makes the church shaped like a cross, which is a symbol of the fact that Jesus died on the cross.
  • The chancel leads up to the altar at the top of the church. The altar is in the sanctuary. The word “sanctuary” means “somewhere which is safe”. People were not allowed to be arrested in the sanctuary, so they were safe. The altar is usually at the east end of the church. People in the church sit facing the altar. We say that the church “faces east”.
  • Churches will also have a tower, usually at the west end. If the church has a transept the tower will be above the centre of the transept.

In Roman Catholic churches there is always a stoup (bowl) of holy water near the entrance of the church. This tradition comes from the fact that Roman basilicas had a fountain for washing in front of the entrance. The font is a bowl where people (often babies) are baptized. This is also near the entrance of the church. This is a symbol of the fact that it is welcoming the people into the Christian church.

Traditionally the nave has long benches for the congregation to sit on. These are called pews. Some churches may now have replaced their pews with chairs so that they can be moved about for different occasions. At the front of the nave is the pulpit where the priest preaches (these talks are called “sermons”). There is also a lectern (like a large music stand) from where the lessons (the Bible readings) are read.

If there are aisles along the side of the nave there will be pillars which hold up the roof. In large churches or cathedrals there may be a row of little arches along the top of these pillars. This is called the triforium. Over the triforium is the clerestory which is a row of small windows high up in the church wall.

The chancel is the most holy part of the church, and this is why it is often separated from the nave by a screen which can be made of wood or stone, or occasionally iron. The congregation can see through the screen. On the top of the screen there may be a cross. This is called a rood (pronounce like “rude”) screen. Priests used to climb up a staircase to the top of the rood screen to read the epistle and the gospel. Sometimes people sung from there.

Inside the chancel are the benches where the choir sit. These are called choir stalls. They are on both sides. The two sides of the choir sit facing one another. The choir members who sit on the left (north side) are called “cantoris” (the side where the “cantor” sits) and those on the right (south side) are called “decani” (the side where the deacon sits). In some large churches or cathedrals the seats for the priests tip up. The top of these seats, when they are tipped up, are called misericords (from the Latin word for “mercy”). This is because the priests or monks were able to lean against them when they got tired if they had to stand up for a long time (it comes from the Latin word for "mercy").

Sometimes there are holes in the walls of the screen so that the congregation can see through. These are called squints. If there is a recess in the wall it is called an aumbry. It is a cupboard for communion wine that has been blessed by a priest.

The altar may be right at the east end of the church, but in larger churches or cathedrals it is often much farther forward. In that case the very east end is called an apse. Sometimes it is a separate chapel called the “Lady Chapel”.

Churches through the ages

The design of churches changed a lot during the course of history. Often churches were made bigger. When this happened there may be a mixture of architectural styles. These styles vary a lot in different countries.

English churches

In English churches there were several different periods of architecture:

  • The Saxon period (700-1050) was a time when churches were very simple. The end of the church (end of the sanctuary) was often rounded. Hardly any are left now because they were mostly made of wood.
  • The Norman period (1050-1190) came from the style called Romanesque which was popular in Europe. The arches had ornaments which were called “mouldings”. The tops of the pillars looked like cushions, so they were called “cushion capitals”. The windows were narrow and rounded at the top.
  • Early English or Gothic architecture (1190-1280) was not as solid and heavy as Norman architecture. Towers were elegant and tall, like the tower of Salisbury Cathedral.
  • The Decorated style of architecture (1280-1360)was popular at a time when the plague (Black Death) was raging and a third of the people in England died. That is why not so much building was done then. There were lots of stone carvings were made in churches at that time.
  • The Perpendicular style (1360-1540) was very grand. It had lots of straight upward lines and fan vaulting. This can be seen in Westminster Abbey and King's College Chapel, Cambridge. Many churches that can be seen in England were built in this period.

In the 1600s churches were built in a variety of styles. Often they copied some of the older styles. After the Great Fire of London many new churches were built by the architect Sir Christopher Wren. They were built in the classical style. Churches continued to be built in later centuries like this, but also the Gothic style continued to be used.

Modern churches often do not have the traditional cross-shape. It is difficult for the congregation to see and hear what is happening in the chancel. Modern churches bring the congregation, choir and priests in closer touch. An example is the round design for the Church of Christ the Cornerstone in Milton Keynes. Modern churches are often simpler but with a warmer character than the Gothic churches. Many have beautiful mosaic glass windows. Coventry Cathedral is an famous example of a modern church building.

Other pages

Cathedral Chapel Choir


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